American Life in Poetry: Column 815

BY TED KOOSER, U.S. POET LAUREATE

Over the years I haven’t chosen more than a few poems about the writing of poetry, mostly because if you don’t write poems you might not be interested. But I do like this poem about poets by Richard Jones, from his new book Avalon, from Green Linden Press. I, too, get up early to write in Nebraska, while Richard is up in Illinois.

Devotion

“Poetry not rest,” is trouble’s answer,
rising before the sun, setting out
in a gray light to the dull grumble
of thunder to balance the words
bottle or old wooden chair or bluebird
on a line’s life-or-death tightrope,
struggling to add color to the canvas,
purple or burnt umber, transcribing
seven violins crying to the willows,
or simply cutting a stem of rosemary,
the deep smell of earth for inspiration,
the earth and the grave, never resting,
working from sheer will and memory,
working with quill and ink if need be,
knowing trouble and rest won’t last,
that no one has the cure for this life
though we honor the day with words,
name the plow and extol the hammer,
knowing that even the poorest poet,
if a poet, is at a desk in a corner
of eternity, already long dead,
laboring to transform death to praise,
never wearying, never once losing faith.

We do not accept unsolicited submissions. American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation (www.poetryfoundation.org), publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright © by 2020, "Devotion," from Avalon, (Green Linden Press, 2020). Poem reprinted by permission of Richard Jones and the publisher. Introduction copyright © 2020 by The Poetry Foundation. The introduction's author, Ted Kooser, served as United States Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry to the Library of Congress from 2004-2006.